Macerata and Loreto are the only towns which the Popes wanted to be depicted in insets in the map of Piceno, the southern Marches. The description attached to the view says: Macerata originated from Helvia Ricina. It is the capital of the province and it is governed by a Papal Legate. It is the see of a Sacra Rota tribunal and it is renowned for its fine arts and for the sciences taught in its University. The choice to depict Macerata, rather than Ancona or Ascoli, was a reward for a town which had a tradition of being faithful to the Popes.
Views of Macerata: (above) from Treia on the River Potenza valley (rather similar to the painting in the Vatican); (below) from the road to the River Chienti valley
In the afternoon we began to ascend the Apennines. We arrived at Serravalle, a poor little town, twenty miles from Foligno, standing very high in the Apennines, in a straight pass, which has been well fortified. (..) We crossed the river Chienti, just below its source. The road led winding along a valley by the side of this river, with high rocky hills around. (..) After dinner we came to Tolentino, the country improving upon us very fast. (..) The road lay along a rich and beautiful country to Macerata, a handsome town on a hill, with a gate built like a triumphal arch (not very impressive; it was demolished in 1927 to facilitate the access to the town).
James Edward Smith - A Sketch of a Tour on the Continent: in the Years 1786 and 1787.
J. E. Smith (1759-1828) was an English botanist and the founder of the Linnean Society. In his Grand Tour of Europe he included a journey to Loreto and he described Via Lauretana, which branched off Via Flaminia at Foligno to reach Loreto via Tolentino, Macerata and Recanati. This town, similar to Macerata, claimed to have been founded by the inhabitants of Helvia Ricina, a Roman town which was destroyed in the Vth century.
(left) Porta Montana; (right) a section of the walls showing improvements made in the late XVth century
In the XIIth century the inhabitants of Macerata, a rather small settlement, managed to be recognized as a Libero Comune (Free Town) by the rulers of Fermo. They had to struggle to retain their independency. Eventually in 1445 they chose to place themselves under the protection of Pope Eugenius IV, at a time when all the other neighbouring towns were still ruled by local institutions or warlords.
The Pope sent a Legate (governor) to Macerata, who was given authority over the whole region. Initially his power was rather theoretic, but in the XVIth century many other towns had to accept direct Papal authority and the importance of Macerata grew.
In 1320 Pope John XXII made Macerata a bishopric see at the detriment of the dioceses of Recanati and Fermo, towns which had joined a general rebellion against him.
When Macerata became the residence of the Papal Legates it was felt that the old Cathedral was no longer suitable for the town.
A new building was completed in 1478, but it was replaced by another one in the late XVIIIth century, with the exception of the bell tower.
Macerata was one of the first Italian towns to house a college run by the Jesuits. Matteo Ricci, from a local noble family, began his studies there and completed them at Collegio Romano in Rome. He is renowned for its missionary activity in China. Thanks to his initiatives the Jesuits were highly held at the court of the Qing Emperors. In the XVIIIth century they introduced some elements of Roman architecture in the design of a summer palace in Beijing.
(left and right-above) S. Maria della Porta; (right-below) Palazzo della Prefettura, decoration of a previous medieval building
Most of the medieval churches and palaces of Macerata were pulled down or modified after 1445. S. Maria della Porta, founded in the Xth century and redesigned in 1290, is one of the few remaining medieval monuments of the town and it shows an elaborate brick decoration. This was typical of the town at a time when it could not afford using stone or marble and it was used for a palace which was eventually incorporated into Palazzo della Prefettura.
Piazza della LibertÓ with Palazzo della Prefettura, former residence of the Papal Legates (left) and S. Paolo (right)
The Palace of the Papal Legates incorporated two previous buildings which had been the residences of the Priori (locally elected magistrates) and of the PodestÓ (a foreigner who was asked to rule the town on a temporary basis). The place where it stood became the heart of the town. Two small churches and other buildings were pulled down to make room for a large, almost rectangular, piazza. In the XVIIth century S. Paolo was built at its eastern end. Similar to the Cathedral and other churches, it has an unfinished fašade.
Palazzo della Prefettura: (left) 1509 portal bearing the name of Antonio Flores, Archbishop of Avignon and Vice-Legate of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (future Pope Paul III); (centre) detail of the portal with the coat of arms of Archbishop Flores and the heraldic symbol (an oak) of the reigning Pope Julius II; (right) coat of arms of Pope Gregory XIII and a 1493 window with the name of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Orsini
The design of the palace was attributed to Giuliano da Maiano, a leading Florentine architect, but construction began after his death. The position of Legate at Macerata was a very important one and it provided the incumbents with a substantial revenue which they employed to embellish their residence and place as many coats of arms and inscriptions with their names as they could.
Loggia dei Mercanti or Farnese
The involvement of Giuliano da Maiano in the design of the palace and of its adjoining loggia was most likely due to the fact that the latter was built in 1505 with stones and columns taken from Palazzo Venieri at Recanati which had been designed by the Florentine architect. The Loggia bears an inscription with the names of Pope Julius II and Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. In 1641 a Legate closed its upper part to turn it into his bedroom, but in 1905 the building was restored to its pristine beauty.
Portals of palaces now belonging to the University of Macerata: (left to right) De Vico, Ugolini, Graziani Conventati (detail - XVIth century)
A few walks through the streets of Macerata sufficed
to show that there also, as in so many other similar
places, absenteeism, and the tendency of society
to gather itself together, as far as each individual's
means permit, into masses in the great capitals, is
rife among the class of local nobility, which had once
the reputation of forming one of the best provincial
social circles in Italy. We observed a great number
of palaces of much architectural pretension, and
many of them of such vast size, as to make it a matter
of wondering speculation what purposes of accommodation or splendour such immense masses of
building, containing evidently suites of magnificent
apartments, capable of receiving guests by the thousand, could have served. But almost all, if not
every one of these were shut up, the owners absent,
inhabiting, probably, a furnished lodging in Rome,
Florence, or, mayhap, Paris!
Thomas Adolphus Trollope - A Lenten Journey in Umbria and the Marches - 1862
The University of Macerata was founded in 1540 by Pope Paul III. Similar to many other public institutions in Italy it is housed in historical buildings, which otherwise it would be difficult to maintain.
Madonna delle Vergini: (left) fašade; (right) rear part of the church, which stands at the top of an isolated hill, seen from S. Claudio al Chienti
About a mile out of the city there is a celebrated
church dedicated to "La Madonna delle Vergini", built by Bramante. It is therefore very fine; and
everybody with any pretension to taste must admire
it very much. Trollope
Because Donato Bramante's plan for S. Pietro Nuovo was a large domed Greek cross building, many Renaissance churches having points in common with that plan were attributed to him (e.g. S. Maria della Consolazione at Todi). The miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary which prompted the construction of the church occurred in 1548 so the locals never thought it had been designed by Bramante who died in 1514. The church was designed by Galeazzo Alghisi da Carpi, a mainly military architect who worked at the fortifications of Loreto, in 1550-1565.
Madonna delle Vergini: (left) main altar; (right) detail of a 1533 fresco by Lorenzo Pittori which stood in a previous small church and now is on the main altar
The Madonna who lives there is a
wholesale miracle-worker; and innumerable little
pictures, daubed in colours, of the wonders she has
done, are hung up as votive tablets. The inhabitants
of the district seem to have an inveterate habit of
tumbling, always head foremost, out of fruit-trees.
And the Madonna always saves them from getting
anything worse than a good bruising. But she never
keeps them from tumbling; or if she does, she gets
no thanks for it. Trollope
The previous church where the apparition occurred was dedicated to "Madonna dei Vergini" (and not delle), i.e. of the prepubescent boys and girls who needed protection (and not of the women who chose to retain their virginity as at Chiesa delle Vergini in Rome). The miracles described by Trollope had much to do with the country around Macerata being soft, rich and garden-like, as the author himself stated in a previous passage.
The noble families of Macerata contributed to the lavish decoration of the interior which is full of stuccoes and frescoes in line with the fashion of the late XVIth century.
S. Giovanni: (left) seen from Strada Nuova (today Corso della Repubblica), a straight street opened in the XVIIth century; (right) dome and bell tower seen from outside the walls of the town. They are a landmark of Macerata for those arriving from the south
The upper classes were the target of the predication of the Jesuits. Because Macerata was a town with a university and a detached section of the Roman Sacra Rota, the highest appellate tribunal of the Papal State, the Jesuits opened a college which was enlarged in the XVIIth century. Its church was designed by Rosato Rosati, a local architect who is best known for having been involved in the early phases of the construction of S. Carlo ai Catinari in Rome.
XVIIIth century palaces: (left) Palazzo Torri (1738-1758, the image used as background for this page shows a mask above the entrance); (centre) Palazzo Costa (1756); (right) statue of Hercules by Giovanni Bonazza at Palazzo Buonaccorsi (1707-1727)
Over the centuries the importance of the Papal Legate of Macerata declined, because other legates/governors were appointed to rule the main towns of the region. The noble families of Macerata however were not affected by this change from an economical viewpoint. They had bought fertile and well farmed land, so they had money to spend on their palaces which imitated the Roman ones with their stucco decorations and some ancient-like statues.
In the XVIIth/XVIIIth centuries many Congregations of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri were founded in the Marches. The Oratorians built churches at Camerino, Matelica, Ripatransone, Treia and other towns. The founding members of a new Oratory were usually wealthy citizens who could afford spending on the decoration of their churches to make them resemble those of Rome. The Order was founded at approximately the same time as that of the Jesuits and there was a sort of rivalry between the two orders which both run schools. S. Filippo was designed by Giovanni Battista Contini, a leading Roman architect, and it was built right opposite S. Giovanni, the church of the Jesuits.
Madonna della Misericordia and a detail of its fašade
In 1447 the citizens of Macerata built a small chapel in the square of the Cathedral as an ex-voto for the end of a pestilence. The chapel was redesigned in the early XVIIIth century. In 1893 two small porticoes with Doric columns were added at the sides of the fašade. Overall the final result is not bad.
Porta Picena (left) and Sferisterio (right)
Porta Picena was opened in 1823 by Pope Pius VII to facilitate the access to the town. Next to it in 1829 one hundred wealthy citizens financed the construction of Sferisterio, an enormous oval building. Its purpose was to house matches of Il Gioco del Pallone col Bracciale, a sort of Basque pelota which was in fashion at the time. During the XIXth century the interest for this game declined and eventually in the early XXth century changes were made to the interior of the building to turn it into an open-air opera house. In 1921 it was inaugurated with a performance of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. Similar to Terme di Caracalla it is particularly suited for operas requiring the presence of masses on the stage.